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Díaz and Moore: New wave of Black leaders is good news for middle-class Arizonans

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Monday, February 5, 2024 - 12:57pm
Updated: Monday, February 5, 2024 - 1:03pm

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More Black leaders are stepping up and getting elected to office in Arizona. Maybe it was the nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and more. Maybe it’s the constant influx of new residents that keep changing the face of our state. Or maybe it’s the pipeline of mentorship that is helping to grow and develop a new generation of African American leaders here in the Valley.

Greg Moore says it’s probably a little bit of everything, but the trend of growing Black leadership in Arizona is clear.

Moore is a columnist for the Arizona Republic's Opinion Pages, and he joined editorial page editor Elvia Díaz on The Show to talk more about it.

Man points at camera
Mary Grace Grabill/Cronkite News
Jevin Hodge in Phoenix on Nov. 8, 2022. Hodge was appointed to replace Rep. Athena Salman in the state House in January.

LAUREN GILGER: So Greg, let's start with you. You write that there are no there are no real numbers on this. No one really tracks the candidates in the state this way. But the trend here is pretty clear. Tell us just first what we’re seeing.

GREG MOORE: Yeah, just Black people are stepping into leadership positions. I think we’re up to three now at the Capitol, and it’s everywhere, right? Tempe City Council, Tempe Mayor, Phenix City Council. Just just all over the Valley, we’re seeing Black people step into leadership roles everywhere from school board to the state House. It’s pretty neat.

GILGER: Yeah. So let’s talk about why this might be. You outlined several factors in your column that I mentioned at the top there. Let’s start with the protests over the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, many more at the hands of police that sort of rocked the nation in the last several years here. How much do you think that spurred things to change?

MOORE: I think what happens is you can have people who stand outside of the halls of power and authority and shout, “Hey, things need to change. Things aren’t going well.” But eventually you need people to step inside and try to work from within. And no matter how many leaders you talk to or whomever you talk to, they will always say, that both sides are important. You need the people who agitate from outside the system, but you really need people willing to step in, get their hands dirty, and become part of the change that they’re seeking to create.

GILGER: That’s really interesting. So not just protesting in the streets, but getting inside those offices as well?

MOORE: Yep.

GILGER: Elvia, let’s talk a little bit about how much you think this increase in diversity in office here might have to do with just changing demographics in the state? We’re also seeing this happen in other communities — there are more women in office now, more Latinos in office now, things like that. What do you think about that?

ELVIA DÍAZ: Well, I think it’s incredibly important. Keep in mind that African Americans in Arizona are about 4.4%, less than 5% of the Arizona population. So to see more faces is incredibly important. Even when I was writing about the Legislature, I was always looking at the African Americans and Latinos at the Legislature. And so when you look at those numbers, it doesn’t seem a lot. And even Greg mentions here that the three Black lawmakers at the Legislature, but also they have held important positions. You know that the former House minority leader, for instance is a Black person.

But when you look at its totality, then we see a lot more Latinos and African Americans in positions of power. And that’s what I love about this column, that it just doesn’t look at the Legislature. It looks at city councils, it looks at other government entities here. So, yes, of course, it is. It is important to have that representation.

And I think Greg is right that this is because we have so many people coming from so many different places, especially California too. So we have locals and then we have the new arrivals.

GILGER: Yeah. I want to talk more about another point that you make in your column, Greg, which is that there seems to be this kind of concerted effort to mentor to grow a new generation of Black leaders. What does that look like here?

MOORE: Well, so first of all, that’s essential, right? If you have older generations fighting for and holding on to power and preventing younger generations from stepping up and saying, “Hey, these are the areas of need that we see and we’ve got a motivation to do something about it,” you can create a rift that prevents progress.

And so the thing I think that’s super important when we think about Black leadership is that it lifts the entire state. It’s not like Black people are getting in there and only representing for Black people. Just statistically, Black people are more likely to be connected to the middle class and people who are striving to get into the middle class here in the U.S. If that is the case and Black people say, “Hey, we need more child care, we need free child care,” that’s not just going to help Black kids or Black families. That’s going to help everybody.

If they say, “Hey, we need to devote more resources toward education,” education’s going to help everyone. And there are so many issues that Black leaders, again, statistically speaking, are just more likely to have a personal connection to either themselves or someone they know or someone that they grew up with. And I just see this as a boon for the entire state.

GILGER: So you’re starting to talk there about some of the issues that you think many of these Black leaders are going to champion. It seems to be largely in Democratic politics, but not entirely. Talk a little bit about the issues driving this.

MOORE: Yeah, for sure. Start with education, right? Start with child care. Start with housing costs. You know, just anything that we see that systemically makes it more difficult for people to get into the middle class, job that pay living wages.

And again, these are not Black issues. They’re not white issues. I don’t, frankly, even see them as Democratic or Republican issues. I just see this as an issue of a family trying to get into the middle class to make sure that their children have the best opportunities for success possible. And I see these leaders as representing a wave that could really help our state keep people closer to the American dream.

GILGER: Yeah. Let me end with you then, Elvia, on this. Talk a little bit about what impact you think this might have, this new generation of people coming up, a generation of Black leaders coming up, championing these issues. What do you think it means for the future of the state?

DÍAZ: Well, I think Greg is is right that those issues that they are bringing up to the forefront are not just for Black people. It’s for everyone. And that’s what really gets me, that unfortunately minority leaders are only elected from minority legislative districts or council districts because that’s how the politics are, right? So that’s why we see fewer and fewer of them. So just the fact that the rest of the legislative body at any level is going to be able to connect with a different set of ideas, a different set of understanding about what's really hurting them, what’s helping people that they normally don’t have any contact with.

And let’s be real. I mean, some of those state lawmakers probably have never been to south Phenix, for instance, where I live and what a lot of the African American people live as well. So I just see the positive everywhere here.

I just wish there would be more opportunities for Blacks and Latinos and other minorities to actually get elected. But unfortunately, our politics and our legislative districts and local jurisdictions are set in a way that it just doesn’t allow for that.

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